HC Deb 20 May 1814 vol 27 cc991-7
Mr. Bankes

said, the motion which he was about to propose was not brought forward with a view to create any unnecessary delay in the proceedings of the House. The committee for which he intended to move might easily, he conceived, come to a report, within so short a time as not to prevent parliament from adopting measures on the subject of the corn trade, if necessary, this session. He was anxious that the House should be accurately informed, what the actual state of the corn trade at present was; and what its situation was likely to be, with reference to importation, before the next harvest, and for two or three months after it. If they were in possession of this information, they would know how to act. But it was very dangerous for them to proceed in new-modelling the corn laws, at the end of the war, without knowing the probable terms of the peace, or the effect it might have on the finances of the country. A worse period could not have been selected for entertaining the question.—He wished to confine the committee to the consideration of two points: First, What is the state of the foreign corn now in the kingdom; and next, what is the opinion of the best informed persons as to the probable importation of corn from abroad, during the time he had mentioned. This information could only be procured by oral testimony—and, if it appeared, that there was no likelihood of foreign corn coming into the market for some time, he thought it would be wise to remain as we were. If the contrary were apprehended, then it might be proper to resort to some legislative measure. The hon. gentleman then moved, "That a Select Committee be appointed to enquire into the corn trade, so far as relates to the importation and warehousing of foreign corn, and to report their observations thereupon; together with the minutes of evidence which may be taken before them."

Mr. Wm. Smith

rose to second the motion; and not in consequence of any newly acquired lights, but in perfect conformity with the opinion he had shortly delivered in one of the early debates on the resolutions. He then had said, and by everything which had since passed he was confirmed in the opinion, that the House was not ripe to decide on the final measure. It was unnecessary, on the present motion, to enter into the general reasonings on the subject at large; it seemed to him enough to induce any gentleman to support the proposition for a committees, that sufficient grounds were not yet laid for an ulterior proceeding. The evidence of the committee of last year was little applicable to present circumstances, and nothing further had been adduced. He approved, therefore, of the committee, even should the inquiry go no further than the honourable mover had proposed, but he approved it still more, in the con- viction that when once appointed, the inquiry would probably be far more extensive, and embrace so many points as might delay the whole measure till another year; an event which he regarded as very desirable, because affording opportunity to obtain that knowledge, which, farther time only could bestow, but which was necessary to enable the House to legislate wisely and safely on the matter. Who could yet say what might be the effect of peace, and the commercial, treaties to be made in consequence, on the state of markets either at home or abroad? Farther, was not parliament pledged to relieve the country from the property tax in a short period after the restoration of tranquillity—and would not the remission of that burthen make an immense difference both to landlords and tenants, and enable both far better to support a very considerable reduction in the prices of produce? He had before alluded to the state of our circulating medium, an affair of no small importance in the present argument. Besides, the abundance of the last harvest was notorious; and when the quantity so far compensated for the diminution of price, the farmer was in no danger surely of being so much injured in one season as to discourage agriculture to a degree at all likely to affect the general welfare. He was sure also, that a more deliberate discussion, and an evident desire in the House to obtain all requisite information, would convince the people at large, that their real interests were consulted, and render them far more satisfied with whatever might be the eventual determination. One hon. gentleman had proposed to avoid the inconveniencies which haste might occasion, by making the present only a temporary measure; but in an affair of such magnitude and general importance, it was surely better well to consider and weigh your enactments, and even to postpone them to the most proper and convenient opportunities, than to adopt them hastily, and trust to remedy their defects by future and even speedy alterations. Agriculture, too, ought to rest on more steady provisions; its very nature demanded them;—the farmer could not be every year changing his plans without great disadvantage. And for all these reasons he should support the motion—a motion good even in its least extent; better still if carried so far as to delay till another session a measure which he felt himself at present bound to oppose.

Sir H. Parnell

did not think that any grounds were offered for the committee. As to the observation, that the farmers could, not be ruined in one year, he could not agree to the truth of it. This was the time in which all the corn was brought to Dantzic for the purpose of exportation; and if the present measure was not adopted, the consequence would be, that there would be such an influx of foreign corn into the market as must have the effect of converting many thousand acres of tillage land in this country into pasture.

Mr. Broadhead

was for the committee. The report of the former one was not such as the House could proceed to legislate upon for the whole kingdom, as it related almost exclusively to Ireland. It might be a deficiency of understanding on his part, but he declared to God he could hot comprehend what the House had done upon that report: and, whether they meant to fix the price at 63s. or 73s. he knew no more than a man in the clouds.

Mr. Rose

would put it to the House to decide, whether, as there was not sufficient evidence to proceed upon, it would not be infinitely better to defer the farther consideration of the entire subject till another year; and that a committee should be appointed for the express purpose of obtaining full evidence.

Mr. Peel

wished the House to consider the time at which the proposition for the new committee (that proposed by Mr. Bankes) was made. In consequence of the report of last year, two Bills were now before the House; and having made this progress, it is now proposed to have a new committee to do the whole work over again. Why was not the necessity for this committee seen before? The enquiries that might be made by it could only be temporary; and when they were made, what ground could there then be to legislate upon? The effect would be, that the enquiry would be made on circumstances that would perpetually vary, and thus a new committee of investigation would be necessary every year. He did not think that any thing further was requisite to enable the House to proceed. If ever it intended to legislate, the late decision, in the proportion of five to one, was sufficient authority to enable it to do so.

Mr. Protheroe

said, he had never disguised his opinion as to the defective evidence on which the original report was founded. It was almost entirely confined to the agricultural interests of Ireland; and he thought the people of England had a right to the same advantage of inquiry. He should, therefore, vote for the motion.

Mr. Alderman C. Smith

, unless he could obtain further information, would vote against the measure altogether. At present, he was for the committee.

Sir John Newport

opposed the committee. It would only occasion useless delay, and give opportunity for raising a clamour against the measure. The House should never suffer clamour of this kind to have the least influence upon their decisions. If he were to write to his constituents, and tell them that they were deeply interested in the success of this measure, and by this means procure meetings and combinations, as had been done in other places, he should be called a seditious man. He admitted, that the attention of the committee was a good deal directed to Ireland, not for the exclusive interest of that country, but to ascertain her capacity to make England independent of foreign countries by her own produce and that of Ireland. He again deprecated the influencing of the passions of the people, who never look beyond momentary gratification, toward future distress.

The Chancellor of the Exchequer

certainly thought, that on a part of the subject the House had not obtained sufficient information. In his opinion, the House would disgrace itself by proceeding so far as it had done, and not going farther. But without proper information we should still be left in uncertainty as to the general average, and therefore he preferred the graduated scale. The delay of a year would have a considerable, effect in the way of information; for little could be obtained before, respecting the foreign trade; but as far as it went, what had been obtained was satisfactory. On the whole, he was disposed to support the motion for the committee.

Mr. Frederick Douglas

denied that the object of the proposers of the Bill was to support any combination of landholders; but the House was called on to pay attention to the interests of agriculture. A graduated scale of any sort would not effect the intended purpose, as it would enable the importing merchants to outbid the farmers. He should oppose the motion.

Sir John Sebright

was of opinion, that the committee would be perfectly useless. It would give an opportunity to the constituents to get ready petitions ten times as long as the enormous one presented yesterday. He would ask, was it likely that there was any person in a town, either gentleman or chimney-sweeper, who, if appealed to, would say, that he would not rather have bread cheap than dear?

Mr. Daly

was against the committee; as, in his opinion, all necessary, information had been obtained.

Mr. Finlay

thought it highly necessary that the committee should enter into the enquiry.

Mr. Preston

was against the committee. In contradistinction to what had been said respecting the wealth of farmers, he would assert that these persons in general were in very narrowed circumstances; and in this very year, unless the landlords were very merciful, more distresses would be taken than had been executed during the last 20, years. The average price of land, he contended, notwithstanding the enormous rates at; which piece were sometimes purchased, was not more than 25s. an acre; and in Scotland, landlords were glad to get 20s.on the average.

Mr. Huskisson

would not hesitate to say, that all those who supported the motion for the committee, did so with a view to defeat the measure altogether The greatest apprehension might well prevail in the country, when it was fact, that, some hundreds of thousands of acres had only been cultivated under the idea of the improbability that foreign corn would be imported: and those who had disbursed their capital on inclosures, would rue the day when they had done so, unless just protection were afforded them. He would vote against going into the committee at all.

Mr. Bathurst

was in favour of the committee, to a limited extent. He attributed the clamour which prevailed, to the subject not having been brought forward at an earlier period of the session.

Mr. Canning

replied to the remarks of Mr. Huskisson. The Chancellor of the Exchequer had, in his opinion, been most unfairly attacked, accused as he had been of tergiversation, while he had taken the most discreet, just, and sound, though certainly not the most popular part, throughout the whole discussion. It was agreed on all sides, that some protection was necessary to the British grower; and it would be a great misfortune if the proceedings were to be suspended now, while so much alarm prevailed.

Mr. Bankes

explained. He contended that nobody would ever think of enacting a permanent law at such a time as this. Since this period last year, when the Report was presented, twelve months had passed, more eventful than any in history; and whatever report might have been then presented, it would have been insufficient to legislate upon at the present period. On the whole, he thought the House could not safely venture either to pass the law or to put it off.

The question was then put, and a division took place—In favour of the motion, 42; Against it, 99;—Majority, 57.